Marc Molinaro is running as the Republican in the special election to fill out the term for New York’s current 19th Congressional District. The district encompasses eastern Broome, Otsego, Delaware and Sullivan counties as well as parts of the mid-Hudson Valley. His Democratic opponent is Pat Ryan.
Both candidates discussed their candidacy and some policy views with WSKG ahead of the Aug. 23 special election.
Vaughn Golden: This is WSKG News. I’m Vaughn Golden. I’m here with Marc Molinaro Republican candidate for the special election being held in the existing 19th Congressional District. Marc currently serves as Dutchess County Executive. Thanks so much for coming on.
Marc Molinaro: Happy to be with you. Thanks very much.
VG: So we’ve offered these interviews to both candidates running in the special election in the 19th district that includes Mark Molinaro and Pat Ryan. This is the existing 19th district which includes Eastern Broome, Otsego, and Delaware Counties. The date of the election is Aug. 23. We should also note the special election coincides with a Democratic primary election in the new 19th, new 19th District on that date. Marc is running as the Republican in the general election of that race later this year, but there is not a primary for the new seat. So for the structure of this interview, we’re going to take some time to discuss you and your candidacy then spend the remaining time discussing some specific policy areas. So can we start off by, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your history and public service?
MM: Sure, well, I have spent every day of my adult life trying to make government work for people. You know, many people know of course, in 2018, I ran for governor as the Republican candidate came in second place, but obviously made the made the fight for upstate New York, in the communities I now hope to represent in the House. I’ve served the last 11 years as a Dutchess County Executive, where we’ve led in in mental health investment and substance use disorder, Dutchess is recognized as having one of the strongest fiscal conditions of any county in the state. We have the highest bond rating of any county in the state and for the last eight years, we’ve provided consecutive property tax cuts. In fact, in 2022, we offered the largest property tax cut in county history along with a pretty substantial sales tax reduction because we can and that’s been really my message. We can invest in government, excuse me, invest in the services that people expect from government while still providing meaningful tax relief. Six years before that I served in the state Assembly, I served as the assistant minority leader. I represented Dutchess and Columbia counties in the state Assembly where I helped co-sponsor the property tax cap and the largest middle class income tax cut in 58 years. But, many remember me and I still like to remind folks that I began my public service career as an 18-year-old. I was elected to the village board of trustees in Tivoli, New York, 1,300 residents and one year later, at the age of 19, was elected mayor. And I just I tell anyone that frankly, if you can survive village government and successfully, it’s a it’s a life lesson. You learn early on that, you know, when the when the roof leaks, it leaks on Republicans and Democrat and and the job of local government is to fix the roof not blame somebody else for why the roof’s leaking. But I will tell you that I talk to young people and high school students all the time. I encourage folks who want to be involved in public service to get involved, to treat it as a dignified duty, but I am, every day of my adult life I’ve had a healthy skepticism about government and have been advocating for for residents and we’ve, we’ve done some remarkable things that I’m happy to talk about, but I don’t, I don’t apologize for my by decision to enter public service, but like I said, I I truly believe in in trying to make government work for people.
VG: What’s your motivation for running, and why, why Congress and why now?
MM: Yeah, well, the last two years have been definitional, in a lot of ways. Single party rule in Washington, and Albany has produced the highest rate of inflation in 40 years, high taxation, high regulation. Combine that here in upstate New York and our communities know it, we’ve seen too many businesses shut, shut down, too many family farms closed up and too many families seeing their family members move off to other states. I think it’s because of reckless spending. I think it’s because of, and know it’s because of policies that have made us less affordable and less safe and that to me is troubling and I’d like to use my lifetime of experience, my desire to make things work for people, pragmatic approach to problem solving to send a message to Washington and to get Washington to pay attention upstate New Yorkers. The other is, I would say over the last two years during the pandemic, you know, what we saw was government overreaching. Many, many people know this, I know the human toll of the virus, COVID. I’ve lost my father to it very early during the pandemic. My job was to help marshal every county executive in the state to respond, but what we saw from Washington and Albany was a willingness to, to sort of accept certain people and certain jobs were essential versus non-essential. Certain lives were deemed less valuable and quite frankly, we allowed this government, Albany, to choose to put people, to put seniors into homes. We knew it was going to cause a risk to their lives and today, no accountability. We we saw governments send kids home and handcuff teachers to computer screens without really a willingness to recapture those moments. And I’ll tell you as a dad of four children whom I love, one of whom lives with an intellectual and developmental disability, we saw what had historically been government treating those with disabilities a second class, I can tell you firsthand that Albany and Washington targeted them, denying direct access, direct support and direct services to those with disabilities. When a government can do that, it isn’t caring. It isn’t compassionate, it’s cruel, and frankly, I think there ought to be an effort to make up for those moments, restore some balance and trust, and there needs to be checks and balances in a government that, quite frankly, too often is too big, too bloated and too arrogant.
VG: You mentioned this, but you have spent your entire career your entire professional career in government. Why should somebody who may be skeptical of government or may not like a quote unquote, career politician, trust that you will represent them best in Washington?
MM: Well, there’s two things. One, I certainly have private sector experience. Although, yes, I you know, I served as, I held my real estate license for a number of years, I relinquished it when I became county executive because I didn’t want to make it seem as if any impropriety or any, any special treatment.
VG: Yes, yeah.
MM: This is what I tell people, every day of my life has been in the public record. You can, you can count on me because, frankly, my decisions, my relationships, and my work is open for public record. We, we restored a village and invested in infrastructure and in parks and made the village of Tivoli more vibrant. In the state Assembly, I fought back against the Democrats in the assembly that too often ignored upstate New York and didn’t care about high property taxes. That’s why we adopted and I co-sponsored the property tax cap. As county executive, I’ve not only pushed back against Albany and Washington with bad policies, but I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats and move good policies, to protect our environment, to enhance public safety. All of my life and decisions have been public. And frankly, I think we need someone who on Aug. 23 can go right to work representing the communities of the 19th Congressional District and use every resource, every experience and every relationship to get government to pay attention to a part of the state that too often, in particular, statewide officeholders flyover, and national leaders ignore. And so, for me, as I said, I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats from village, town, county and state government, to every agency that might might have some effect on the communities I hope to represent and I intend to leverage all of that on behalf of the people.
VG: So you live in the current 19th district and that’s what you’re running for in this special election.
MM: Don’t confuse people.
VG: I’m trying to trying to run it out. You live in the current 19th district, and that’s what you’re running for in the special, but you don’t live in the new 19th district that you are running for in the general election in November. Why not step aside and let another Republican who lives in the new district run to both fill out the current term and the new term?
MM: Well, first I, you know, I announced I was running for the 19th district in September. My goal was, and remains, to represent 19th district. I said, I’ve worked with the communities of this district for the last well, 25 year, so and I’ve worked with, by the way, every Republican and Democrat who has represented it. And so, I have a deep commitment to the people of this part of the state of New York and when, and despite reapportionment, I wasn’t willing to give up on on this part of New York or these communities. And so, I’m committed to the 19th district on Aug. 23, I hope to be elected to represent it and then on Aug. 24, begin working on behalf of the people of the 19th district. And then in November, if the residents of the new 19th, which by the way is 85% of the current 19th, want me to continue, they’ll have an opportunity to reelect me. And I’ve said this before, I’ve got four young children, I just need to accommodate some of their education needs in the short term and I intend to have a residence in the 19th district come, if I’m given the honor of representing it. But I do want to be clear, so it’s one of the few times I’ll at least point out a distinction between me and my opponent. You know, on Aug. 23, my name will appear on one ballot for one district. On Aug. 23, my opponent’s name will appear on two separate ballots for two separate districts and there isn’t anyone in the 19th district now who thinks should should he win on the 24th He won’t begin immediately campaigning in a district that doesn’t include all almost all but 15% of the current 19th district. They’ll be running in the 18th district on Aug. 24, I will be committed to the 19th district and the people of the 19th district on Aug. 24.
VG: And that kind of leads into my next question, What in your opinion sets you apart and makes you more qualified for this role than your special election opponent, Pat Ryan?
MM: Well, I tend not to do that. I will tell you, I think my life, my life’s work and record is pretty clear. You know, Pat and I have been friends. I will say I don’t I don’t necessarily appreciate some of the cheap shots I’ve seen come my way. I think during the pandemic, we worked together, I led many of our communities including the county executives, during during some very challenging times. We came all to trust and rely on one another. I don’t like picking apart each other’s life to experience nor nor background makes a lot of sense. I will tell you in the case of Dutchess, we invest in law enforcement, we invest in public safety, we invest in environment infrastructure, and we have led on mental health services. We have perhaps the most comprehensive community-based mental health services of any county in America. We have led in criminal justice and public safety. In fact, when it comes to mental health and public safety, counties across New York, including Ulster, are replicating the work that we’re doing. Dutchess has the highest bond rating of any county in the state we have, without without question, or defined as, as having among the most fiscally responsible, I just think we see the world differently. Pat will go to Washington and vote with the Democrats that are already there. I think there needs to be checks and balances. I think there needs to be accountability. I think that the House of Representatives, again, the majority won’t change on Aug. 23. It will remain a Democratic majority, but there’ll be one more voice, and I think upstate New York deserves to have an alternative voice. There are enough downstate Democrats in Albany, there are enough Democrats in Washington, I think that we deserve to have someone who’s going to push back on policies that have led to historic inflation and, and frankly, less less safe communities. He and I don’t see eye to eye and cashless bail, we don’t see eye to eye on the public safety policy, or excuse me, the the reforms coming out of Albany that have undermined public safety. I think we ought to repeal cashless bail, I think we ought to reinvest in community policing, he’s unwilling to say that. He and I see the impacts and farming differently. Within weeks, the state of New York is likely to impose a new labor standard on family farmers in upstate and includes the counties we’re talking to to today. I oppose that shift. That will devastate family farms, it will likely lead to fewer family farms in upstate New York. It’ll likely lead to less workers working those farms in upstate New York. Pat is unwilling to state his position, so I assume he supports it. And so I just think that having worked in and around this community for so long, I’ve lived the issues, I know the issues. And frankly, I’m gonna hit the ground running to represent the people of the district.
VG: We’re about 13 minutes in and I want to switch to some policy areas. So we’ll go down a go down right on through here. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, Democrats are moving forward legislation or at least trying to move forward legislation supporting women’s ability to abort, abort of pregnancy. In what scenarios, if any, in your opinion, should women have the choice to terminate a pregnancy?
MM: Well, this is a first, what the Dobbs decision says is important. It returns the question of access to the states, not the federal government. So, in my view, and I think this is sustained by the constitution, and the supreme court decision, the role of the federal government is extremely limited. Now the House has already acted to expand access, they’ve had voted several times. That won’t change on Aug. 23, the Democrats will maintain the majority and so there’s there’s no threat to undermining at least what the House has done. But again, because of this, the Dobbs decision, this now becomes a states rights matter and therefore I don’t see any any right or role the federal government interfere to limit access in states that have brought access like New York, nor nor expand that access to states that have some limitations. Here is where I land personally, personally, I’m pro-life. I’ve said this many, many times. However, I have accepted what what I thought was settled law and I accept what is New York state’s law. Pat Ryan and I disagree. I think there ought to be some thoughtful limitations on late term abortion. I think they should only occur in in absolute necessity, life of the mother. I do think that we ought to be investing more in neonatal and prenatal care. I think there ought to be broad access to contraception, contraception. I voted for over the counter expansion of contraception and plan B when I was in the state Assembly as an alternative and I think that we ought to be investing a great deal more to support families that choose adoption that choose to bring children with disabilities into the world and choose to and those who choose ultimately, to terminate their pregnancy. They they deserve support from government and from healthcare as well. So that’s where I land personally. I think that, by the way, most people in this district believe there ought to be thoughtful limitations. There, there was a time, Bill Clinton used the term, there was a time where safe, rare and legal was sort of the message. I do think in this moment, we ought to be talking a lot about what we value in life and about life and, and work with our state governments now and citizens to listen and learn and implement policy that that that that communities and states want to impose. But again, I, as I said, the Dobbs decision returns this issue to state governments, not the federal government.
VG: Moving on Congress passed a package of reforms related to firearms earlier this year, that included strengthening background checks, providing funding for mental health services and hardening school security and other measures. Would you have supported that? Had you been in the House at the time?
MM: I would have asked for more investment and mental health services at the school level. I believe in comprehensive and effective background checks. The federal government today, the FBI has some one million background checks that have gone going on unresolved. That is a failure of government. If we have the law in place it ought to be effective, and they ought to be clear. Number two, I would push for truth in sentencing. 65% of gun related crimes get pled in this state to non-gun-related crimes. If we want to be serious about protecting people, we have to hold criminals accountable and in this state, we don’t cashless bail has undermined that, failure to, failure to prosecute laws have under undermined that, and again, I think that if you commit a crime with a with a weapon, you ought to be held accountable and tried and prosecuted for a crime with a weapon and not pled to some non nonviolent offense or some offense without without gun related matter. And so that I think is important. Here’s a core correlation. The federal government just this week, adopted a a bill that they claim will result in inflation reduction, it won’t. But there’s some $80 billion to expand the IRS by 87,000 IRS agents. Well, I don’t necessarily trust this government with with 5000, more IRS agents, but if we had $87 billion, what we should be investing in is social, emotional training, social workers, and trauma informed care in every school building in America. We could do that for about $40 billion. Why we haven’t, is because we have a lack of will. Congress is more interested in in making the point and less interested in making a difference. So those are the three areas that I want to focus most of my time and resource to expand and enhance public safety, but I will tell you, if we don’t hold criminals accountable, then we are not taking seriously what we know is growing, what are growing instances of violence in and across New York in America,
VG: Would you support a ban on assault weapons, very similar to the one that was in place in the mid 90s to early 2000s.
MM: No, I’ve said that my focus is going to remain on investing in the services necessary to prevent incidents. This is what I, just I’ll say this very clearly, we know who by the way over the course of time, we know that in particular among young men, there are moments of trauma and instances where if we were invested the right time, we can prevent incidents of violence. I’d like to focus on the on the individual, as opposed to what we often do, which is to wait for the the crime to be committed, and talk about all the things we should have done and could have done. New York has most of those tools and because of lack of investment, they’re not. They’re not effective.
VG: But would you support a ban on assault weapons that similar to the one that was present in the 90s? This is something I’m asking you point blank, would you support a very similar measure to the one that was on the books on the federal level in the 90s?
MM: No, what I said is that I wouldn’t, I’d focus my time on on making sure that we achieve the kind of investment necessary to prevent incidents of violence. And by the way, the world has changed significantly since then. And one of the areas we have failed, is investing early enough to identify and to assist those individuals who we know have trauma in their lives that we can effectively prevent incidents of violence against themselves and others.
VG: Okay. And as a member of the House and you just made reference to this, as a member of the House, what do you believe the role for lawmakers is to fight inflation, largely an issue of monetary policy but of course fiscal decisions do have an impact?
MM: There’s there’s little question first of all, inflation is fueled by by excessive government spending and monetary policy. That is not “or” it is “and” and I think you reference and I think it’s important. Number one, every dollar spent needs to be justified and at the moment, inflation in this country is being is being fueled by excessive federal spending and this and the answer to excessive federal spending is not more excessive federal spending as Washington, the White House and Congress has just moved forward with this last week. And so controlling spending is necessary, driving down our deficits is necessary and investing in American jobs and American businesses is necessary. And so for me, every dollar spent needs to be justified and if there’s not a justifiable or measurable outcome, we ought not spend it.
VG: How do you justify what do you mean justify, what is the justified expenditure?
MM: Well, I might where I come from, if we tell the taxpayers, we’re going to tax them a dollar for the purposes of, I don’t know, paving a mile of road, we better prove that we can pave the mile of road. Washington rarely measures success. Why do we need 87,000 IRS agents? No one can answer that question. What is the metric used to come to the conclusion that we need 87,000 new IRS agents. And so the point being, if the government, if the federal government is saying we need a billion dollars to accomplish “x”, what is the measurement tool we’re going to use to determine whether or not we’ve achieved that? Rarely does Washington do it. Number two, John Katko actually has a bill that addresses clearly the effect of of policy on inflation. We often, as the CBO does measure the cost of any bill to government. My belief is you ought to measure the cost of any bill to the taxpayer. What is the cost, what is the inflationary impact of an appropriation bill? If we don’t know that we shouldn’t act on it. Those two things alone will help us at least start to hold government more accountable. If you can’t measure how you’re going to achieve success then I don’t want you asking me to approve additional dollars. If you can’t tell me how that dollar is gonna impact a family farmer or small business or family across upstate New York, then I’m not willing to support it. Those are the kinds of things that we do to to ensure accountability, drive down cost. Secondly, government’s sitting on massive surpluses and as was county government. Instead of increasing federal spending, we ought to be driving down taxation. It isn’t good enough to simply maintain high taxes. It is better to drive down tax and burden on on on on taxpayers, families, and small businesses. And so in my county, when we stood when we saw a substantial surpluses, we provided the largest property tax cut in history, we cut our sales tax, we cut our our gas tax to provide some $25 million in tax relief to taxpayers. Washington ought to be doing those things as well.
VG: So included in the reconciliation bill that the Senate passed this past weekend is a phased in approach to Medicare negotiating the price of some prescription drugs. This would be phased in over a few years and only pertain to certain amount of drugs. Do you agree with that provision and the idea of Medicare negotiating the cost of prescription drugs?
MM: I will say that I have historically agreed with Medicare expanding its capacity to negotiate. What I worry about is twofold. Just and so again, I will be candid with you. I’d want to know more about how that gets achieved and there needs to be limitations, but I have historically thought that Medicare negotiating prescription drug options would be of benefit. But again, there needs to be limitations so that we don’t stymie innovation that’s important and secondly, that government not have too much of a role in in regulating all aspects of, of healthcare, quite frankly, because I just don’t trust that the federal government is good at managing most things. And one example I’d offer you is that the fact that the federal government doesn’t keep pace with cost has meant that the provision of general Medicare health care has become much more limited, right, because rates have not increased to keep pace with cost and therefore communities like ours, the ones we’re talking to today, have fewer and fewer health care options. If if the government has too much control over making those types of purchases, it owns too much of the of the stock so to speak, it can limit access, and that’s that’s a a point or a line in the sand that would not want us to cross.
VG: What else can be done to address the cost of prescription drugs?
MM: Well, I mean, listen, I do think the the regulatory system that this country has does drive up cost. The FDA in particular, is an insider’s game, that frankly, we’ve seen over the last couple of years doesn’t necessarily produce the best interest. It does slow as other countries have allowed for greater innovation and perhaps some alternatives to find their way to the marketplace safely. The FDA has been more of a big pharma kind of institution and that I think, you know, needs to be considered certainly. The other is, is broader, if you keep pace again, with with if Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates kept pace with cost, you could at least provide greater reduction in savings and other aspects of health care that would make prescription drugs a little bit less of of the burden that they are today.
VG: That is the federal government’s role in addressing climate change and where do you think federal investments are best spent and best allocated when it comes to addressing climate change?
MM: Yeah, I mean, listen, I I’ve broadly, and I’ve been doing this, as you we noted earlier, I’ve been doing this for a little a little while. Dutchess is a climate smart community. We have been aggressive in transitioning or at least broadening our reliance on renewables. I think first we have to be we have to be honest about energy transition. You can’t get from where we are today to a totally renewable grid and infrastructure without transition without sort of all of the above. That includes natural gas resources, includes nuclear and then we have to be honest about that. Secondly, if we all spent, so we also have to build up the grid itself and that that requires, in this state, a great a greater amount of investment than we are today. And so first, I think renewable and and less reliance on on fossil fuels for any generation is the transition that we ought to be focused on. How we get there, however, it needs to be respectful of cost, and it needs to be smart. We cannot get to where the federal and state government wants us to be in the time period we are without reliance on fossil fuels in other countries and that’s a mistake. So I think there, that is a prime role for for the federal government is supporting investment at state and local levels to transition to less energy consumption is is important. And more broadly, we talk a lot about obviously, energy consumption, but we also have a role to protect land and other natural resources. That includes our watersheds, waterways, wetlands and tributaries. We’re not very good at that. As an example, FEMA, by the way, when a bridge gets washed away, every every state, every national leader will tell you well see this is climate change, we got to rebuild for for for resiliency yet FEMA only allows you to replace a bridge for the value and the condition it was in prior to getting washed away. There are regulatory limits on building up resiliency that have to be undone in order in order to make smart investments. And as I said, I think there needs to be smart leveraging of federal resources, or natural resources land, and critical environmental resources at the local level.
VG: There’s been a lot of discussion about banning or limiting stock trading amongst members of Congress. Do you feel as though Congress needs additional rules about this and what specifics would you like to see?
MM: Yes, yeah, I said this some months ago. First, I will tell you, we lead by example, my county, Dutchess imposed term limits on our county-wide elected officials. We implemented the most independent redistricting process of any county in the state and we have the most comprehensive ethics law of any county in America. Congress needs to be held to a higher standard. I would absolutely have already pushed and Congress should have acted to prohibit individual stock trading by individual members and their spouses. And quite frankly, what what has been allowed to continue in Congress is criminal, and there ought to be every effort made to to end the practice.
VG: Alright. We have time for about one more question here. So the shooter, who killed 10 people in Buffalo was from Conklin in Broome County which is in the new, new 19th. He penned a long document of his flatly racist beliefs. How do we combat that kind of hate and racism when it shows up in our communities and what role should the federal government play in that?
MM: Well, he penned lots of things including some antisemitic language, as well. And what we’ve seen is an increase in hate, whether it be targeted toward African American, Hispanic,, Asian, or many of our Jewish neighbors. I’d like to see, actually, I penned some letters some years ago to the federal government as county executive. We have seen a fraying of the social fabric that has held us together. I don’t want to sound like some old guy who says, well, social media is bad and we should somehow recover what we once had in the past, but there’s a reason, well a value to the community organizations that bound us together, the social groups that once did. You know, the community and neighborhood school and the interaction families had with, with with with education have had value families themselves, whether you believe in a God or not faith has value. Those are the kinds of things that frankly, in moments of real anguish, anxiety, fear and terror, those are the kinds of things we rely on. A lot of that has been frayed. And first, I would say to you that we have to commit, we have to understand that we have to understand that our actions and our words have profound impact on others. And that we have created a world in particular where young people and by the way by extreme young men, and have found their way to, to places through social media and otherwise, that frankly, has has radicalized people. By the way, with young women, it’s produced more and more body shaming, bullying, and ultimately suicide, we have to confront that one of the ways you do that, is by investing in social emotional training among everyone who interacts with young people. That’s sort of what I was talking about a moment ago. Every school building, sure, I believe in school resource officers. I think they ought to be trained in trauma informed care and, and social emotional training, crisis intervention. But every educator needs social emotional training, every parent needs to have access to mental health tools. And it’s not, I come from a, my mother was diagnosed with depression. I’ve lived with mental illness in my family my entire life. I, those who have mental illness, rarely commit crimes, but those who commit acts of violence, those who have hate, often have undiagnosed and identified moments of trauma that we need to intervene with, which means, we need to intervene, which means we have to create the infrastructure. So so the way we treat trauma and the way we treat mental health in this country is criminal. We don’t have access to the right tools, broad access to, as I said, trauma informed care, social emotional training, mental health first aid. Every county in America deserves a stabilization, a treatment center where you can walk through the door and ask questions about mental health and get access like we have. Dutchess County is a model in the country. Those are the kinds of investments that federal government ought to be spending more time and dollars toward because again, if we can identify incidents early in young people’s lives, we can help direct them toward a more peaceful and more safe and a less violent existence. Those are the tools that we ought to be using. And what we say in my community, is we need to turn everybody from from being sort of bystanders to engaged partners, you never know. The person next to you could be contemplating taking his or her life that the friend that may be acted out once or twice could be thinking of acting out in a violent way. The snide joke or remark could very well be a sort of a cover for underlying hatred. So So investing in those tools and those resources, and making it clear that we don’t accept, one, we don’t have violence and hate. We also will have the support structure to help people turn away from that sort of thing. That is all very important.
VG: Alright, we’re at about time so I’ve been speaking with Dutchess, County Executive Mark Molinaro and Republican candidate for the special election in the 19th Congressional District. Thanks so much for your time.
MM: Happy to be with you.